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Legislature passes massive road construction plan

by AP


Posted on April 12, 2012 at 9:46 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 13 at 7:14 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- A massive appropriations plan received final passage in the Kentucky General Assembly on Thursday, paving the way for more than 1,000 road construction projects that political leaders say will provide a needed economic boost as the state recovers from recession.

The House passed the two-part, $10 billion initiative on the final day of this year's legislative session.

The initial round of appropriations, which cleared the House 77-16 late Thursday, calls for $4.5 billion to be spent in the next two years to build roads and bridges across the state. The remainder, covering the following four years, passed 89-4 shortly afterward.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, said the proposal includes funding for the state's single largest project: $2.6 billion for two bridges across the Ohio River in Louisville. Harris said the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-led Senate agreed that project is a top priority.

The appropriations bill also includes $200 million to widen the heavily traveled Interstate 65, where numerous fatal traffic crashes have occurred in recent years. A crash on a rural stretch of the highway near Munfordville in 2010 killed 11 people, 10 of them members of a Mennonite family.

The Senate had passed the measures without opposition earlier Thursday.

Gov. Steve Beshear said the highway plan will not only improve the state's transportation infrastructure but also will boost the economy.

"The Louisville bridges project is going to employ thousands of people over the next six, eight, 10 years," he said. "All of the different projects that are in there will put people to work. That money will then flow through our economy and be turned over many times through our retail establishments. So, it really is job creator."

Negotiators for the House and Senate engaged in lengthy talks regarding hundreds of relatively small road and bridge projects that lawmakers pushed for their local communities. Those talks ended shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday.

"I would say, yes, it was tough negotiations," Harris said.

Budgeting has been one of the more time-consuming chores this year for Kentucky lawmakers, who last month passed a $19 billion state government operating budget.

A slow economic rebound led to a lean state budget that forces sharp cuts on most government agencies, leaves employees without pay raises again and erases a planned cost-of-living increase from the monthly pension checks of retirees.

The measure calls for 8.4 percent cuts to most government agencies and programs because of lingering financial woes brought on by the recession. Those cuts will account for nearly $300 million in savings.

The latest budget will be especially difficult for agencies that have already cut spending by more than 30 percent over the past four years.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear used his line-item veto power Wednesday to strike some provisions lawmakers had tucked into the budget, including $200,000 for an actors' guild, $300,000 for a mystery writers' festival and a handful of other earmarks.

Lawmakers scraped up funding for some high-priority projects, including $2.5 million to begin design work on a proposed renovation of Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky basketball team. They also agreed to pony up $3.5 million for improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park north of Lexington.

Lawmakers also passed Beshear's tax amnesty plan that he believes could collect a badly needed $55 million over the next two years. It would be the state's first offer of tax amnesty in a decade, and would forgive some penalties if people come forward and pay their taxes.
   The legislation is House Bill 267 and House Joint Resolution 77.